The number of people caring for a family member has reached 7.6 million, a sharp increase of one million compared with a decade ago.
Data analysis by the Social Market Foundation, an independent thinktank, shows that millions are now giving up their time to for free to look after elderly relatives, a partner or a sick or disabled child – with the number spending 20 hours or more caring for a relative up by 4% between 2005 and 2015.
But charities have warned that carers are losing out in terms of work, finances and health. They are calling on the government to urgently invest in the care system rather than relying on good-hearted individuals to prop it up.
“The care system requires a big injection of funding … it would be dangerously complacent for policymakers to assume there is an infinite supply of wonderful people able and willing to provide informal care for their loved ones,” said Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.
The thinktank analysis, sponsored by Age UK, comes as ministers prepare to publish a green paper on social care. The government originally promised the green paper before last year’s general election, but then said it would be unveiled before MPs’ summer recess – although there were hopes it would appear much sooner.
The Social Market Foundation report also found that family carers provide 149m hours of care each week, equal to the work of 4 million full-time caregivers.
Other findings include the fact that more than half (59%) of those providing care for an elderly relative are women. Of those providing care to a sick or disabled child, 65% are women.
“More women with professional and managerial jobs are trying to combine work with family care. We know that carers are often driven to reduce their hours or leave work altogether, and without proper support for these carers, there is a risk that women are increasingly driven out of professional careers, reversing recent progress towards equality in the workforce,” said Kathryn Petrie, Social Market Foundation economist.
The report highlighted how caring can affect earning, with women aged 40-64 who are non-carers making a median £1,500 a month, £50 a month more than carers, who earn a median £1,450.
Caring has bigger impact on male earnings, the report finds, because they are more likely to be working full-time and earning more before taking up their caring duties than women.
The report makes number of recommendations for the social care green paper including the suggestion that employees should record the number of their staff who have caring responsibilities.
Big employers should also be required to publish policies for supporting workers who care, the report said. It noted that surveys suggest only 40% of large employers have policies setting out how managers should support carers.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the invaluable contribution that carers make … but this should not be at the expense of their own health and happiness … the forthcoming social care green paper will … look at long-term sustainable solutions for the social care system.”